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The Wrath Of Seas And Climate Change

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

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Climate change, U.S.
Waves from Hurricane Florence pound the Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle, N.C. VOA

The seas are angry this month.

While the remnants of Hurricane Florence soak the Carolinas and Typhoon Mangkhut pounds the Philippines, three more tropical cyclones are spinning in the Western Hemisphere, and one is petering out over Southeast Asia.

Experts say some of this extreme tropical weather is consistent with climate change. But some isn’t. And some is unclear.

It’s unusual to have so many storms happening at once. But not unheard of.

“While it is very busy, this has happened a number of times in the past,” said meteorologist Joel Cline at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Mid-September is the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. If there are going to be storms in both hemispheres, Cline said, now is the most likely time.

Climate Change
Russ Lewis covers his eyes from a gust of wind and a blast of sand as Hurricane Florence approaches Myrtle Beach, S.C.. VOA

Stronger storms, and a grain of salt

Scientists are not necessarily expecting more hurricanes with climate change, however.

“A lot of studies actually (show) fewer storms overall,” said NOAA climate scientist Tom Knutson.

“But one thing they also tend to simulate is slightly stronger storms” and a larger proportion of Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, Knutson said. Florence made landfall as a Category 1 storm but started the week as a Category 4.

Knutson and other experts caution that any conclusions linking climate and hurricanes need to be taken with a grain of salt.

“Our period of record is too short to be very confident in these sorts of things,” said University of Miami atmospheric scientist Brian McNoldy.

While reliable temperature records go back more than a century in much of the world, comprehensive data on hurricanes only starts with satellites in the 1980s.

Climate Change
Submerged tombs are seen at a flooded village after heavy rainfall caused by tropical storm Son Tinh in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam. VOA

Extreme rainfall

Scientists are fairly sure that climate change is making extreme rainfall more common. Global warming has raised ocean temperatures, leading to more water evaporating into the atmosphere, and warmer air holds more water.

Florence is expected to dump up to 101 centimeters (40 inches) of rain in some spots, leading to what the National Weather Service calls life-threatening flooding.

One group of researchers has estimated that half of the rain falling in the hurricane’s wettest areas is because of human-caused climate change.

Knutson agrees in principle but can’t vouch for the magnitude.

“We do not yet claim that we have detected this increase in hurricane rainfall rate,” he said.

Climate Change
Homes are surrounded by water from the flooded Brazos River in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, in Freeport, Texas. VOA

He points to earlier studies that blamed climate change for 15 to 20 percent of the devastating rainfall Hurricane Harvey poured on Texas last year.

However, these studies looked at all kinds of rainfall, not just hurricanes, Knutson notes.

“We think that hurricanes are probably behaving like the other types of processes, but we have the best data for extreme precipitation in general,” he explained.

The latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has “medium confidence” in the link between climate change and rainfall extremes.

As Florence trudges across the Carolinas, one recent study suggests that hurricanes are moving slower, giving them more time to do their damage.

But that may be natural variation more than climate change.

“I think we’re still early in the game on that one,” Knutson said.

Climate Change
Women walk through a coastal ghost forest believed to be caused by sea level rise on Assateague Island in Virginia. VOA

Rising sea levels

The area where scientists are most confident is sea level rise. Climate change is responsible for three-quarters of the increase in ocean levels, according to the IPCC report.

“Once you have human-caused sea level rise, then all other things being equal, whatever storms you have will create that much higher storm surge,” Knutson said.

That means more erosion and more damage farther on shore.

Whether this hurricane season as a whole will be one for the record books remains to be seen. While the seas are angry at the moment, that may soon change.

Also Read: Tropical Storm Florence: What To Expect?

An El Niño warming pattern appears to be developing in the Pacific. That tends to squash hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

“It appears that perhaps next week will be much more quiet in both basins,” said NOAA’s Joel Cline. “So it does ebb and flow.”

Next Story

Major Breakthrough Made In The Treatment Of Ebola Virus

The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment

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Ebola, pregnant women
A Congolese health worker administers Ebola vaccine to a woman who had contact with an Ebola sufferer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Aug. 18, 2018. VOA

In northeastern Congo, more than 600 people have fallen ill with the Ebola virus, and at least 368 people have died from the disease. It’s been difficult to contain the virus because of conflict in the region, despite medical advances, including a vaccine.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is where Ebola was first discovered in 1976, when the country was called Zaire. The disease was named after the Ebola River where the virus was spreading. Between then and 2013, there was no treatment or a vaccine. The outbreak ran its course in quarantined communities.

Scientists started studying the virus, however, trying to come up with better ways to handle its various deadly strains. They succeeded in producing a vaccine to help end the Ebola epidemic that swept through three West African countries between 2013 and 2016. More than 11,000 people died in that outbreak.

Ebola
Tom Geisbert, right, a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, explains to Texas Gov. Rick Perry the work researchers are conducting in a Bio Safety Level 4 lab in the Galveston National Laboratory, Oct. VOA

Treatment found

At that time, treatment for the Zaire strain of Ebola was developed. It was costly to produce and didn’t work on two other lethal strains, the Sudan and Bundibugyo viruses.

But now scientists have found one. Their research produced a drug cocktail called MBP134 that helped monkeys infected with three deadly strains of Ebola recover from the disease.

What’s more, the treatment requires a single intravenous injection.

Thomas Geisbert, Ph.D., led the research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, part of a public-private partnership that also included Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Ebola
Medical staff are sterilized before entering the isolation unit at a hospital in Bundibugyo, western Uganda, on Aug. 17, 2018, where there is one suspected case of Ebola. VOA

Must treat all strains

In an interview with VOA, Geisbert stressed the need for a treatment that would be effective against all strains of Ebola.

“When an outbreak occurs, we really don’t know which one of those three strains, species, we call them, is the cause of that particular episode,” Geisbert said.

He added that the treatments available have been effective only against the Zaire species, which leaves people infected with the other species unprotected.

“Our goal was to develop a treatment that would work regardless of the particular strain of Ebola that was causing it,” Geisbert said.

“If I have to make a drug that only works against Zaire, and another drug that only works against Sudan and another drug that only works against the Bundibugyo species, that is extremely expensive,” he added.

Geisbert said the treatment will save valuable time in determining which strain of Ebola is circulating in a particular outbreak. It will save lives because people can be treated immediately, and it will also save money.

Ebola, mother
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) workers talk to a worker at an isolation facility, prepared to receive suspected Ebola cases, at the Mbandaka General Hospital, in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 20, 2018. VOA

No profit

There’s no profit for the pharmaceutical companies that produce the drugs.

“It’s not like you’re making up vaccine for flu where companies [are] going to make a profit. There’s really a small global market for Ebola so it really has to be sponsored by the government,” he said.

In addition to the U.S. Army and the Canadian government, the U.S. National Institutes of Health has supported much of this research.

Geisbert said the work ahead involves tweaking the dose to its lowest possible amount, making it easier to distribute — again to reduce costs — and conducting clinical trials in humans to ensure the treatment is safe and effective.

Geisbert is confident it will work in humans, although he cautioned that in science, nothing is certain.

Ebola, Baby, fighting
A health care worker carries a cross next to a coffin with a baby suspected of dying of Ebola in Beni, North Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, Dec. 13, 2018. VOA

The treatment may not be ready to help those with Ebola in the Congo outbreak, but the promise is that countries affected by the virus could have the treatment at the ready to stop future Ebola outbreaks.

Also Read: Congo’s President Challenges Election Result In High Court

It also means that should someone with Ebola walk into a hospital outside of Africa, as happened in Texas when a Liberian man sought treatment, the patient can be cured, and health care workers can be protected. (VOA)